Friday, 17 November 2017

Madness on Manus

Pic courtesy Gippsland Times

The madness on Manus continues.

Refugees continue to be used as a political wedge by both the major parties, who share bi-partisan brutality in their treatment of this issue.

There are, however, some hopeful signs.

I hope, gentle reader, I'm not a giddy optimist, but maybe, after all these years, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

My conviction about the situation and the policy disasters that led to it, promoted by both major parties, is pretty close to this statement from Australian Catholic bishops -

A Joint Catholic Statement on the Humanitarian Crisis on Manus Island

A week after the official closure of the Manus Island detention centre, more than 600 refugees and people seeking asylum languish inside, unsafe and uncertain about their futures.  

After forcibly transferring the men to Manus Island in 2013-2014, the Australian government and its sub-contractors have now abandoned the centre and the island, leaving vulnerable people seeking asylum without access to medical care, psychiatric treatment, food, water, or electricity.  

Our government has failed to provide these men with any safe alternatives. The UNHCR has condemned alternative accommodation in Lorengau as unsuitable and unfinished. Human Rights Watch is the latest of several international organisations reporting on locals assaulting and robbing refugees across the island with local police making little effort to investigate these crimes. People in the centre have been subject to multiple attacks over the years, one of which caused the death of Reza Barati in 2014.  

Australia’s offer to relocate refugees in PNG to Nauru is no solution at all given the environment there is similarly beset by crippling uncertainty, epidemic rates of attempted suicide and mental illness, physical health ailments, well documented incidents of sexual and physical abuse, and the absence of critical infrastructure across the island.  Unlike PNG, Nauru has never undertaken to provide permanent settlement for its caseload of refugees; with a population of only 10,000, it can’t. 

The US resettlement deal appears to be stagnating and the Australian government continues to refuse New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 recognised refugees.  

We Australians have a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep in Manus Island.  It’s our fault and we should do something about it right now. 

Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), Catholic Social Services Australia, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, and Jesuit Social Services (JSS) jointly declare:  

• The men on Manus Island have the right to food, water and shelter; to freedom and liberty; to be free from inhumane and degrading treatment; and to seek and receive protection.     
• The Australian Government is legally and morally responsible for the lives of these men who have been arbitrarily and indefinitely held in limbo for more than four years.  
 • The only humane resolution to the current impasse is for the Australian Government to bring every refugee and person seeking asylum on Manus Island to Australia where they can be permanently resettled or have their claims processed in safety and with dignity.    
• Offshore processing for the purposes of deterrence, whether in PNG, Nauru or anywhere else, is inhumane and unsustainable, and must cease to be a part of any Australian policy.   We urge all Australians to express their concern for the desperate circumstances of the men on Manus Island by contacting your local federal MP to demand an immediate change to this expensive, unworkable and unprincipled policy.   

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference - Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office:

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFMConv, Bishop Delegate for Migrants and Refugees has issued a statement on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, following the closure of the Manus Island Centre. He states: “The policy of offshore detention has failed and it is time for us to deal with the issue of asylum seekers and refugees according to this nation’s proud tradition and the best nature of its citizens. We can do a whole lot better, just as we did welcome “those who’ve come across the seas” after the wars in Europe and in Southeast Asia. The concern for maritime border security does not have to make us into a mean-spirited people. The policy of offshore detention has cost Australia dearly. But it has cost the detainees and their families even more. I appeal to the government and political leaders to act in accordance with our honourable tradition. It is time to find an alternative and conscionable solution, including accepting New Zealand’s offer of resettlement and bringing the remaining detainees on Manus Island to Australia for further processing.”

(Both of the above statements were first published on 6 November 2017).

As I have posted before, there is a solution beyond offshore processing, a solution that has worked before. It lacks the potential to be used as a wedge, so neither side of politics can be bothered with it.

The problem, of course, is that fear of "the other" has always been a powerful political weapon in this country.

The humane treatment of the Vietnamese must have been an aberration. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Citizenship Saga

Pic courtesy AAP

I’ve called this a “saga”, gentle reader, because no other description fits this series of events so neatly.

A “saga” can be defined as “a dramatic history of a group, place, industry”, and if “dramatic” infers to a series of unexpected and unusual events, it is indeed a very good match.

It all began with a barrister called John Cameron, who had a specific interest in, and knowledge of constitutional law. As it happens, he also has dual New Zealand/Australian citizenship. Cameron became aware that Scott Ludlum was a dual citizen, as Cameron himself was, and contacted a Green acquaintance with his evidence, who passed the information on to the Party.

Ludlum resigned 48 hours later.

Once the cat was out of the bag, and the media got the hang of the implications, the rot started.
Now, as this is written, the whole thing has descended into farce.

The situation has been picked up by the various parties as a means to attack each other’s legitimacy, and all common sense and logic has gone out of the proverbial window.

Now I understand section 44 holds, and we don’t need individuals sitting in either house of parliament for whom loyalty to the country they serve is questioned, but seriously, does anyone really believe that this is an issue for the people who have resigned?

Without wishing to sound cynical, self-interest has always trumped national loyalty in our parliaments, so national loyalty is actually irrelevant.

So, what’s the solution?

I know this opinion flies in the face of the High Court, but why not simply leave everything alone until the next election, and allow those fingered to sort out their affairs in the meantime?

After all, the people who voted for these members believed they were good Aussies entitled to represent them in parliament. How can that belief and trust be thrown in the proverbial waste basket?

The intent of the democratic process should be valued, and not steamrolled by black letter law.  It’s not as if these people who were also citizens of New Zealand and the UK (or Canada, or Italy) were going to be compromised in their decision-making in our parliament. 

I doubt the Kiwis, the Italians or the Canadians are all that concerned about decisions made in Canberra.

But I’m only a voter. It seems that my views (and those, I suggest, of the majority of Oz voters), are irrelevant. But, wait a minute, isn’t democracy a process which is founded on the views of the voter?

We’ve recently had a very expensive postal survey on same sex marriage. Why not put this question before the people –

“Do you wish to allow those democratically elected by the Australian people to remain in parliament until they can renounce dual citizenship?"

On second thoughts, given the record of referenda in this country, we might get a "no" and succeed only in prolonging the saga. There'd always be somebody bloody-minded enough to advance the "no" case. 

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...